Friday, 11 February 2011
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
Tuesday, 30 March 2010
The sociologist Max Weber had some important things to say about value conflict and value pluralism, that is the inevitably of many ethical values and conflicts between them. Go here and here for Weber texts online.
The issue of value pluralism and value conflicts within liberalism is often discussed with reference to Isaiah Berlin. Weber’s discussion is more penetrating and deserves to be discussed more. First some clearing of the ground about Berlin’s limitations.
Isaiah Berlin was a distinguished figure in history of ideas, but I can’t really take him very seriously as a thinker about values. His most famous essay in this area, ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ is much cited, but does not strike me as a very good essay. It gives very little sense of the real richness of the ideas of political and individual liberty, personal and social growth, in the period he is discussing. A book like Freedom and Its Betrayal: Six Enemies of Human Liberty is based on an extremely dubious premiss, that discussions about liberty can be reduced to football teams of enemies and friends. The ‘enemies’ in question are Helvétius, Rousseau, Fichte, Hegel, Saint-Simon, Maistre. 6 very different cases, and maybe none of them are completely innocent of arguments which are bad for liberty, but then who is completely innocent? Certainly Hegel has been rehabilitated by people with political views similar to Berlin, that is left-liberal/social democratic. Some notable French liberals (of a kind similar to Berlin) were members of a Saint-Simon Foundation in France from 1982-99. And so on. Berlin’s numerous contacts and connections, his clear style, impressive personal culture, fame outside scholarly circles, and delightful personality had the unfortunate consequence that simplified versions of the most simplistic elements of his thought have become widespread still, even after becoming at least partly discredited. The irony is that these simplifications have become common place amongst conservative commentators and the more absolutist and more simple minded free market libertarians, who find it helpful to resort to easy oppositions between ‘liberty lovers’ and their supposed enemies.
Back to Weber, who really should be more discussed as a political thinker. There are books and articles around, but not enough in comparison to references to Berlin. However, I am pleased to see that Berlin’s major defender JohnGray has alluded to the importance of Weber, in a recent newspaper review. Max Weber recognised that politics is caught between its more ideal claims and the pursuit of power. Weber also recognised that this is not a question of ethics versus power. The pursuit of an ideal must include the pursuit of the power to implement that ideas. We cannot tidily separate these two activities, even if we can introduce a conceptual distinction. An ethical perspective on a politician must include respect for the willingness to deal with power, and not be just an idealising spectator.
Weber also recognised that this kind of innate value conflict, within the pursuit of a value, is part of the innate value attaching to conflict. There is something deeply valuable about individuals, and groups struggling for their ideal and perspective. Weber was very willing to recognise the value of people he did not agree with engaging in very passionate struggle for their values, e.g. socialists and trade unionists. What Weber feared was that an economic system based on diverse individual initiative, capitalism, and a political system based on the same principles, liberalism, was decaying into conformity inducing bureaucratic states, a and private corporations allying with the state and seeking to stifle competition.
The liberty and strength of the economy, society, and politics, rests on the struggles for values. Struggles which can be defined in less ideal ways as well, but that does not detract from the importance of struggle between different value. It embeds the struggle more deeply. The free individual contains the struggle within, in this tension between abstract ideals and the power to implement ideals. The individual with the deepest calling for politics contains this struggle, and makes it evident, mobilising support for a position through a personal power of persuasion, which can never be purely rational but is not inherently contradictory with reason. Weber’s thoughts on leadership are widely misunderstood. He gave a positive value to persuasion through charisma, through the power of personal style. He thought that this was exemplified by 19th century liberal leaders like Gladstone and Lincoln, operating through democracy, and that this was necessary to the survival of democracy, if it was not going to sink into bureaucratic routine.
Rational bureaucracy is necessary in state and corporation, but the liberal state and the capitalist corporation will weaken if they do not find the means to promote individuality, and the exceptional leader has a necessary role here in enacting and performing strong independent character. The necessary components of depersonalised rules and reason, personal charisma and distinctness of character, along with tradition are conflicting and necessary components of a world of democracy and liberty. Liberty does not just rest on reasoned disputes about liberty equality, law and so on, but on deep conflict within society and inside personalities.
From Weber’s point of view, it is much easier to understand why a Hegel for emphasises the value of the coherence of laws and institutions in the state, a Saint-Simon who emphasised ‘scientific’ state administration, a Rousseau who emphasised the importance of a common political sphere, are not the ‘enemies’ of liberty. Parts of their thought tend away from individualist liberalism, and that leads to some problems to my mind. But, only an adherent of anarcho-capitalism or possibly a purely nightwatchman state, could reject those elements which tend away from pure individual freedom. At some point, the existence of laws and institutions, and some shared values, must restrain pure absolutist individualism. Even anarchism and minarchism cannot escape that dilemma, though it is a necessary aspect of such positions, to try to ignore or abolish it.
Monday, 22 March 2010
Points covered include
His movement from conservatism to liberalism
The economic and social conditions of liberty.
Understanding of democracy in relation to realism and competition with regard to power
Discussion of German situation
Why his understanding of charismatic leadership is at least as much to do with democratic leaders like Abraham Lincoln and William Gladstone, as it is to with authoritarianism.
Tuesday, 16 March 2010
In Daybreak aphorism 168, Nietzsche is praising the historian Thucydides, author of the Peloponnesian War, an account of the 30 years war between Athens and Sparta. He refers to Thucydides as the outcome of a culture, the culture of Athens: ‘Thus in him the portrayer of man, that culture of the most important knowledge of the world finds its last glorious flower: that culture which had in Sophocles its poet, in Pericles its statesman, in Hippocrates its physician, in Democritus its natural philosopher […]. (translated by R.J. Hollingdale, Cambridge University Press, 1997).
Again we see ambiguity in Nietzsche’s politically significant comments. Thucydides is not not always considered a friend of democracy, and he chronicles the defeat of democratic athens by oligarchic Sparta. However, chronicling defeat does not always mean condemnation of what is defeated, and he gives a famous speech to Pericles, a naval commander who was the most distinguished of Athens’ democratic leaders. That speech famously praises democracy in Athens.
We see that Nietzsche includes Pericles in his great products of Athens, which culminate in Thucydides. We have other examples of Nietzsche praising Pericles, most famously in On the Genealogy of Morals, Essay I, 11. There what Nietzsche emphasises in Pericles is not democracy but the value of strength, itself appropriate to the ‘realism’ of Thucydides. That does not exclude respect for democracy. Machiavelli, Spinoza, and Max Weber all defended democracy as the strongest basis of the state, as the basis of a state that can be effective internally and influential in the international state system.
Again it is not a case of saying that Nietzsche can be defined as a ‘democrat’, a ‘republican’, or a liberal. It is a case of saying he is not the anti-democrat, anti-republican, or anti-liberal, and that he is sometimes the friend of the republic, the democracy, the liberal. He may be the friend whose criticisms are valuable. Where he expresses reservations about these political ideas, he often does so in terms which he shares with advocates of them. Here I can only briefly mention Hume, Kant, Constant, Tocqueville, and John Stuart Mill.
At the bare minimum, Nietzsche can be said to sometimes lean towards the republic, democracy, and political liberty; and where he opposes them, he does so in terms that very frequently overlap with the concerns of the great friends of republic, democracy, and liberty. There are also issues here to addressed later, hopefully, about the relation between these terms, which I assume can conflict but work best through mutual reinforcement.
Thursday, 11 March 2010
there is a a profound maxim worth laying to heart: ‘What matters is not people but things [quoted by Nietzsche in French]’. This maxim, is like him who spoke it, great, honest, simple and taciturn - like Carnot, the soldier and republican. - But may one now speak to Germans of a Frenchman in this way, and of a Frenchman who is a republican? Perhaps not; perhaps, indeed, one may not even recall what Niebuhr ventured in his time to tell the Germans: that on one had given him so strong an impression of true greatness as Carnot. (R.J. Hollingdale translation, Cambridge University Press 1997)
Nietzsche throws a republican Frenchman at Bismarkian imperial Germans. His description on Carnot as great and simple in some ways matches his ideals from the classical past and his hopes for individuals in an age to come . That may not be the full story, but it is still part of it.
It’s worth thinking about Carnot and his life. I confess to not knowing much before. I will be getting what appears to be the standard current autobiography, by Jean and Nicole Dhombres, from an online bookseller very soon. What I have found out is a variety of accomplishments leading to the reception of his remains in the Panthéon, the place which commemorates the heros of the French Republic. A leading military figure in the wars which followed the 1789 Revolution, who was co-founder of what is now the École Polytechnique, one of the leading higher education institutions in France. He stayed true to Republican ideas even after Napoleon acquired semi-monarchical status and then became emperor. As a result he lost the chance for the highest honours, though he did receive some. That indicates a somewhat equivocal role, he was a member of the Committee of Public Safety which lead the Terror of 93-94, and then played a leading role in its downfall and the new government. I would need much more information to evaluate these incident, but my initial impression is of a decent record for a time of great violence and political about turns. He wrote on geometry and spent time in exile during the beginning of Napoleon’s rise writing a book on the metaphysics of calculus. His son Said was a prominent scientist, who had a major role in the emergence of thermodynamics. A grandson was President from 1887 to ’94.
I would not want to simply state that Nietzsche was a republican, and even a Jacobin on the basis of this remark. The remark has a context, which is to challenge the assumptions of German politics and culture after Otto von Bismark unified Germany in a war with France, and turned the King of Prussia into the Emperor of Germany. Nietzsche turned against the nationalism and the elevation of power politics over culture he saw in that period. That has a conservative aspect, a sharing of Goethe’s belief in the value of many German states with traditional rulers providing many cultural centres. That is nevertheless a conservatism with at least some liberal aspects.
Returning to Carnot the Republican, his apotheosis by Nietzsche may serve purposes other than the justification of republicanism, but it is still important that Nietzsche thought it worth quoting a Republic hero and praising him. If his praise for Carnot has a context which might lead us to qualify any republican gesture, it must also be the case that the kind of remarks Nietzsche makes about Carnot should lead us to qualify the critical remarks he makes about the French Revolution in On the Genealogy of Morality, Essay I. We will not understand Nietzsche if we only see him as the enemy of republicanism.
Next post, a democratic hero for Nietzsche.
Wednesday, 10 March 2010
One difficult and necessary discussion with regard to Nietzsche is his attitude to liberalism, democracy, and republicanism. To put it very briefly, there are just too many people with various perspectives who want to dismiss these moments. Would it be a good idea to say that Nietzsche is a liberal, a democrat or a republican.? No, but then it would not be a good idea to say that he is simply purveying the opposite of those positions. Can we define Nietzsche politically at all? Difficult, I would at least say that he is willing to endorse liberalism, republicanism and democracy, where he thinks they serve some selective purpose in finding those willing to overcome negative forces in themselves. Is he willing to endorse other political forms for the same reason? Yes, but the goal of selecting the individual of strong individuality and abundant life, always has some to offer someone who thinks that democracy, liberalism, republicanism rest best on such individuality, not such an unusual or strange idea.
Next post, a republican hero for Nietzsche, after that a post on a democratic hero and age for Nietzsche.
Tuesday, 9 March 2010
More general comments on Nietzsche’s ideas of virtues after some discussion in passages in Daybreak in recent posts. Concentrating on Daybreak, Gay Science, and Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which Nietzsche declared to be his yes-saying books, I have the following ideas of what positive values Nietzsche looks for, and the virtues that come after morality, or after the morality of good and evil.
Virtues come out of sickness rather than health, at least some of the time. The merit of virtue at its best is that it disrupts normality and universality. Truly individual virtue must seem sick from some perspective, and is a disruption of normal physiological and psychological functioning.
The above point seems to me to refer to difficulties in taking Nietzsche as a completely Aristotelian theorist of the virtues, and in taking Nietzsche as an adaptationist naturalist in his attitude to the origin of the virtues. That is Nietzsche does not take virtues as emerging from a passive reaction of psychology, or physiology, to external circumstances.
Virtue is individuating and intimately connected with strength of character, in its capacity for self-discipline.
The disruption necessary for the emergence of these virtues is likely to at least seem ‘evil’ and to create something dark and impenetrable in individual characters.
The values emerge from selfishness, and selfishness is the prime virtue. A prime virtue that disrupts common virtues, and emphasises individuation.
There is rejection of values associated with the neighbour, sympathy and pity. These are values in which we lose ourselves in orienting ourselves towards others, and subject others to the tyranny of our desire to change them. They reduce individuation and increase conformity.
The superiority of friendship and hospitality to neighbourliness and sympathy or pity.
There is a wish to give and receive, in forms which do not lead to domination, dependence, and co-dependence.
The above is described in terms of sharing beauty and shelter, the taking away the burden of what someone wants to give from the self, the abundance of the self that is so strong it leads to a painful desire to give it away.
Giving as a giving of the self, so that it can be repeated and perceived, taking as generosity because it takes away a burden, distance between individuals which enables individuals to create in a way which is individual and can be shared.
Thursday, 4 March 2010
Samuel Fleischacker, left-liberal political philosopher, and Russ Roberts, free-market libertarian economist, discuss Adam Smith’s economics in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
An example of one of my favourite themes, free market libertarians and left-liberals in dialogue and mostly agreeing. Roberts and Fleischacker agree on all the interpretative issues, including Smith’s ethics. He is not advocating wealth as an end in itself, he is advocating moral choices and moral relations between humans, with free economic exchange, as a necessary component, but just a component. Roberts agrees with Fleischacker that the government does more than provide law and order, and national defence, and that money is just a part of life; Fleischacker agrees with Roberts that the US government bail outs of finance and industry are a bad thing, rewarding bad business decision, and that the state should do less. Roberts and Fleischacker’s only clear disagreement is on whether ‘single payer’ health care (i.e. comprehensive government health services paid for our of general taxation) is in the spirit of Adam Smith. Both admit that various positions could be found to have support in Smith, but I think that where they agree, they essentially set the reasonable limits to plausible interpretation.
My own view, looking at what Smith says about education, is that is in the spirit of Smith for the government to ensure that everyone has health care, but that this should be achieved as far as possible by private arrangements, and through the government keeping down costs by preventing anti-competitive practices; the government only to be involved in purchasing, and possibly providing, health care, where those on low incomes, or in circumstances difficult to insure or save for, need help.
I’ve been posting recently on Nietzsche’s criticisms of ideas of the ethics if sympathy and the domination of the producer by the consumer in commercial society. It’s a coincidence that I am posting this link, but a useful one. We can see in the conversation that commercial society and an ethics based on sympathy are both present in Smith, and are brought together. There are aspects of Smith I’ve alluded to before, which connect his thoughts with the Antique virtues Nietzsche puts forward against sympathy and commerce. I hope to return to those issues in future.
A third post on Dawn/Daybreak (Mörgenrothe), referring to 174. Last few sentences of 174 can be found at the bottom of this post. I74 contains linked criticisms of sympathy and commercial society, which deserve a post of their own. For the moment, I will just look at the positive value suggested at the end of the aphorism. That is the value of creating something beautiful and restful rather than of sympathy in relation to another. The beauty is of more use, suggesting that the Hume and Utilitarian style of arguments both overlook the usefulness of creating something. This undermines the other directed nature of usefulness, sympathy, and utility in values, where we are concerned about pleasure for others rather than pleasure for ourselves. Though that pleasure, for Nietzsche, should certainly not be a maximisation of passive pleasure experiences, but rather the pleasure of activity, and self-transformation, which does not put pleasure at the centre.
The self-transformation, expressed as the construction of a walled garden, both keeps out the other person, and provides something beautiful for that other person. The aphorism ends with the idea of the ‘hospitable gate’, leaving open the question of whether the other person enjoys the beauty before entering through the gate. Are we to take the walls as beautiful, as part of the beauty of the garden, or as what conceals beauty while keeping hostile forms of the outside, storms and the dust of the roadway. The roadway has an ambiguity similar to that of the wall: it threatens the garden with its dust, but also brings the other person who can experience the beauty and the hospitality.
The implied positive value of hospitality can be opposed to the negative value of tyranny, an unmistakably political term. In ‘Of the Friend’ in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche opposes friendship to the slave-tyrant relation, which should lead us to think of such issues in the ethical and political thought of Cicero and Aristotle. That would take us back to the last post on Aristotle and Nietzsche. This is typical of the way political ideas appear in Nietzsche, particularly diffuse, fragmentary and ambiguous, even by his own standards. I hope to return to some of this on another occasion.
The tyrant is opposed to the hospitable, and associated with sympathy. It sympathy which is either ineffectual or a tyrannical control of another person. Sympathy in Hume and Smith is linked with ideas of commercial society, as Nietzsche has suggested (though not through mentioning those names), and also with principles of political and social liberty. Some things to explore on another occasion. For now, it can be said that Nietzsche implicitly defines liberty as being outside relations of sympathy in which someone forces help on another, and relations of hospitality, in which the pleasure of beauty is offered and accepted freely.
In the meantime, the question itself remains unanswered whether one is of more use to another [dem Anderen] by immediately leaping to his side and helping him — which help can in any case be only superficial where it does not become a tyrannical seizing and transforming — or by creating something out of oneself that the other can behold with pleasure [Genuss]: a beautiful, restful, self-enclosed garden perhaps, with high walls against storms and the dust of the roadway but also a hospitable gate.
Translated by R.J.Hollingdale, Cambridge University Press, 1997)